How I became ‘the Pet Mom’ and learned to love it

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Posted by Bronwyn W.

Normally when I walk into my son’s room with a basket of laundry or a pair of sneakers, I am greeted by a cheerful, high-pitched cheeping known to the guinea pig initiated as wheeking. From her spacious cage on my son’s dresser, Twinklebeam, our fluffy orange and white guinea pig, will dart out of her little plastic igloo and run to twitch her adorable little nose at me, wheeking away with joy.

Not today. Today, I see only the tip of a pink nose peek out from the igloo and can barely hear a low-level, muttering cheep. Her cage is not up to her personal hygiene standards and, like everyone else in the house, Twinklebeam assumes that I am the person to apply to if she wants it fixed.

The guinea pig is angry at me.

I didn’t start out with the plan of having a guinea pig. I grew up with dogs and cats and have almost always had a pet. But my brother’s early experiences with gerbils (RIP Tiger, Fiddle and Faddle) didn’t lead me to feel particularly fond of rodent pets, or very confident about their potential survival. What happened to Tiger in 1980 when he got out of his exercise ball and was apprehended by both our dog AND our cat is a gruesome Christmas memory that made an unforgettable holiday impression.

Besides, it isn’t as if we were short of pets. When I got divorced a few years ago, my son W and I took with us my older cat Merle. Soon Merle was joined by the young Joey kitty, so W could have a pet ‘all his own.’ Next Hoho the goldfish came along, courtesy of the school carnival. (Thanks a lot, school! Whose brilliant idea was that?). W and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a no-dogs building at the time and daydreamed about being able to move and get a dog.

Fast forward a few years and we move in with my terrific fiancé: stepfather extraordinaire, P. In addition to being a fellow dog lover, P is actually a sort of animal whisperer and as soon as he sits down, any pet in the area is magnetically attracted to come and get hair on him and beg for his attention. We bought a house together with a little fenced yard in a great school district and planned gleefully for a dog.

P had fond memories of him and his two brothers playing with their big basset hound Muscleman when he was a kid and we went into research mode. For the record, basset hounds are great with children, have terrific tempers, funny faces and habits and are very strong. Sort of like low-slung tanks with long floppy ears and tongues.

Soon we became the proud forever family of Eli from Guardian Angel Basset Hound rescue. A few months after that, Eli the hound was joined by Oreo the cattle dog, who we just seemed to keep running into at Animal Care League adoption events until I felt Divine Providence was trying to send us a message and figured we had better take her home, too.

Merle died last year at Christmas time, but we honored his memory by going out to the DuPage County animal shelter and coming home with Stringer Bell, the yellow cat. I am a strong believer that your pets ‘find’ you and it does always seem to work out that way for me, although it may be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Quite honestly I felt we were pretty much full up in the pet department and had no plans to add to the family. Then of course, W came home from a classmate’s house, filled with admiration for their guinea pig. I gave him an unequivocal “No” and reminded him of just how often P ended up walking the dogs in the morning so W wouldn’t be late for school and that he had plenty of chores to do already.

But he persisted, singing the praises of the guinea pig, even looking them up online and dropping fun guinea pig factoids into our conversations. Gritting my teeth (I am *not* one of those push-over moms, honestly I’m not!) I appealed to P, certain he would back me up on our household’s no guinea pig policy.

To my surprise, I was blindsided by my own fifth-column. P informed me his brother had guinea pigs when they were growing up–with the hilarious names of Pork Chop, Hambone and Rump Roast, lol–and that they were terrific pets. I was skeptical, but a little bit nudged.

A few days later I was having coffee with my friend S, a mom of two boys, one gray cat and a cocker spaniel. Looking for backup, I brought up the guinea pig issue. S enthusiastically told me they also had a guinea pig (Peter Pan, in case you want to know) and that it was really cute, not that much work, etc. You see where this is going, right?

So my next hurdle was that the movie G-Force was coming out. I told W&P that we were not going to contribute to a national craze by joining hordes of irrational parents running out to buy guinea pigs for their kids, only to lose interest in them a few weeks later when they figured out that real guinea pigs do not talk, drive cars or shoot guns. Remember the 101 Dalmatians fiasco?

They counteracted by finding a Guinea Pig Rescue Web site online. Don’t laugh at the thing about parents running out to buy their kids guinea pigs with unrealistic expectations and then ditching them. Visit and you will see HUNDREDS of cute little guinea pigs, all abandoned.

The really sad thing is how many of them now say that they are ‘not good around children’. I mean, a.) Don’t you think that’s because someone’s kid poked and prodded and dragged the poor thing around until it finally had to defend itself? I would have bit a few fingers, too. And b.) How many people out there WITHOUT children are searching the internet for a pet guinea pig?

Critter Corral was a good hour or so away from us, allowing me to put off making a decision. Then I got a fateful phone call from S. She had just seen a newsletter from the Oak Park Animal Care League and they had a guinea pig. Feeling the inexorable pull of fate, P&I drove down Garfield Avenue in Oak Park on the way home from work and stopped in.

Twinklebeam (they named her, not us) had been found by an Oak Park resident wandering around on their lawn. Animal Control picked her up and took her to the Animal Care League. She was orange and white and fluffy with a little ruff of hair standing up on her head. (yes, a lot like the one in G-Force) She was nervous, but allowed herself to be coaxed out with some treats. When P deftly scooped her up and handed her over to me, she snuggled into my arm and started purring. Yes, that’s right, guinea pigs PURR. Who knew, right? She was homeless, adorable and, since we had previous adoption history with the Animal Care League from Oreo, she could be ours immediately for only $15. A real bargain, compared to the $35 or so they charge for guinea pigs at PetSmart.

A few days and about $75 in supplies later Twinklebeam was part of the family. I really had no idea guinea pigs had so much personality. She recognizes each of us when we come in the room, greets us with wheeks and runs joyously back and forth in her Chewable Tunnel (known to us as ‘the chube’ or, using the verbal form, as in ‘Mom, come quick, the guinea pig is chubing!”)

She begs for treats, bites of strawberry or apple, hopping and jumping straight up into the air in the adorable action known as ‘popcorning’. (Seriously, I dare you to see a guinea pig popcorn and not be charmed by it.)

She runs on my son’s bed while we clean out her cage and is a sunny, cheerful presence. Recently when W had a nightmare, I was able to get him to go back to sleep, by pointing out that guinea pigs were nocturnal, and therefore Twinkle was awake and able to keep an eye on things while he went to sleep.

I suppose the only downside is cleaning out the cage. Guinea pigs poop a lot. But they are tiny, dry and not very stinky. I had been worried about a smelly cage, but long before it bothers me, Twinklebeam lets us know that the housekeeping is not to her satisfaction. W&P both help with the cage, so I don’t even get stuck cleaning it every time.

Eli, Oreo, Joey and Stringer mostly ignore Twinklebeam. A few times I have caught Joey up on the dresser, but the cage is secure enough that I don’t worry too much about it. Once I even found the cat and guinea pig touching noses in a friendly way through the bars. When I came in, they both turned and looked calmly at me, a Peaceable Kingdom in miniature.

W’s best friend J can’t have pets. He has three siblings and one sister and their dad have allergies. His sisters love to come over and feed our cats if we go out of town and have shared W’s dog walking chore with him many times. When we got Twinklebeam, it was an occasion for celebration, visiting, presents–almost like bringing a new baby home, except no one made me a casserole.

But as W and his friend played on the bed with Twinklebeam, J turned to me and said “You guys sure do have a lot of pets now.” I smiled and said that we sure did. He grinned back at me as Twinklebeam purred in his arms. “That’s really cool. I love coming here. You’re like the Pet Mom or something.”

I smiled back and thought, “Yeah, I am like the Pet Mom or something.” And you know what? I am just fine with that.

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